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 Table of Contents    
Year : 2012  |  Volume : 54  |  Issue : 1  |  Page : 6-7
Public perception of psychiatry in India: A changing landscape

1 Department of Psychiatry, SRM University, Kattankulathur, Tamil Nadu, India
2 Department of Surgery, UPMC, Pittsburgh, PA, USA

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Date of Web Publication3-Apr-2012

How to cite this article:
Thirunavukarasu M, Cherukuri SD, Pragatheeshwar KD, Thirunavukarasu P. Public perception of psychiatry in India: A changing landscape. Indian J Psychiatry 2012;54:6-7

How to cite this URL:
Thirunavukarasu M, Cherukuri SD, Pragatheeshwar KD, Thirunavukarasu P. Public perception of psychiatry in India: A changing landscape. Indian J Psychiatry [serial online] 2012 [cited 2020 Oct 1];54:6-7. Available from:

In India, the practice of psychiatry in India has undergone several changes in the last few decades. The most striking aspect among these changes has been the perception of the general public towards the practice of psychiatry and psychiatrists in general. There are many circumstances that I could recollect from experience in the last 30 years to demonstrate this concept.

During the early years of my practice as a young psychiatrist, a woman visited my clinic as she had been contemplating seeing a psychiatrist. During her first visit, I felt like I was being interviewed by her. She was interested in knowing my biographic details, most importantly my age and my marital status. I got the feeling that she was trying to assess my level of 'maturity' to deal with complex problems of life before entrusting me with information about herself. She left and returned a few days later to discuss her problems. She must have analyzed me in the interim, and according to her, my age and marital status might have been more consequential qualifications than my formal training in psychiatry. A few decades ago, such an attitude seemed widely prevalent among the public. But it has undergone a change. Nowadays, many potential clients search the Internet for reviews about psychiatrists and read their curriculum vitae before choosing their therapist. The reputation of the medical school from which a psychiatrist graduated may be more consequential than his or her age and marital status.

I recollect taking a home call once to see a then celebrity. On entering the patient's home, the patient's family wanted my verbal assurance that I would maintain complete and absolute confidentiality. At present time, however, celebrities voluntarily disclose, and sometimes with pride too, that they are seeing a psychiatrist.

The matters pertaining to sex and sexuality were considered tabooed topics and inappropriate for public discourse. Medical students were not formally educated or taught about the medical aspects of sexual problems. I remember an occasion when the dean of a reputed medical school in India requested that sexual problems are not to be discussed with the students. However, that situation has changed. These days we find that people are willing to discuss their sexual problems not only with their psychiatrists but also with the general public through the media.

Changes in public perception have also led to changes in the treatment strategies of psychiatric illnesses.

Electroconvulsive therapy (ECT) is an apt example. ECT was invented in 1938 [1] and was widely used as a treatment tool for mood disorders and psychosis. [2] I still remember administering more than 60 ECTs in 1 day. Because of its widespread use, the cost was also low. Now, ECT has gained negative publicity and people have developed an aversion to ECT. They consider it to be a crude and brutal method of treatment. Currently, even in teaching institutions, ECT is not administered. Then, stereotactic surgery emerged as a promising cure for addictive disorders. However, it fell out of favor soon as well. Nowadays, noninvasive procedures such as repetitive transcranial magnetic stimulation and deep brain stimulation are being used. Functional neurosurgical techniques have been developed as a therapeutic modality for obsessive-compulsive disorders. The general public seems to prefer psychotherapy and psychopharmacology for dealing with psychosocial issues, and hence these are increasingly being used now.

Furthermore, the public's perception of psychiatric illnesses has broadened the scope of practice of psychiatry so much that it has become a competitive specialty for aspiring young doctors. Postgraduate (PG) training in psychiatry was started in 1941 in Patna. [3] Until 1967, there were only six institutes that offered PG training in psychiatry and only 14 psychiatrists graduated each year. [3] At that time it was a marginalized specialty not occupying the spotlight among the other specialties that students often sought after. Since then we have seen an exponential increase in the number of PG positions. As of 2010, there were about 266 MD psychiatry PG spots in India. [3] Also, students seem to be more willing to take up psychiatry, and it has become one of the competitive specialties. However, in spite of the fact that there are more psychiatrists now, there is still a significant national deficit of psychiatrists in India. [4]

The last half of the century has seen the birth and development of psychiatry in India, and the most welcoming change has been the increasing attention paid to mental health as opposed to mental illnesses. The importance of promotion of mental health at the community level cannot be overemphasized. It is important for the government to ensure adequate access to information pertaining to mental health promotion. Thus, it is evident by now that the main force behind the rearchitecturing of the landscape of clinical psychiatry in the last few decades has been the perception of the public. This has not only foreshortened the extent of stigmarelated obstacles but also made a huge impact on the way psychiatrists manage psychiatric illnesses.

   Acknowledgments Top

The author thanking Assistant Professor, Sathya D. Cherukuri, Department of Psychiatry, SRM University, Kattankulathur, Tamil Nadu, India, Dr. Pragatheeshwar Thirunavukarasu and Kothai Divya Pragatheeshwar, Department of Surgery, UPMC, Pittsburgh, PA, USA for their contributions.

   References Top

1.Shorter E. A history of psychiatry: From the era of the asylum to the age of Prozac. Toronto, ON: John Wiley and Sons; 1997. p. 218.   Back to cited text no. 1
2.Trivedi JK. Practice of ECT in India. Indian J Psychiatry 2002;44:313-4.  Back to cited text no. 2
[PUBMED]  Medknow Journal  
3.Sharma S. Postgraduate training in psychiatry in India. Indian J Psychiatry 2010;52:89-94.  Back to cited text no. 3
[PUBMED]  Medknow Journal  
4.Thirunavukarasu M, Thirunavukarasu P. Training and National deficit of psychiatrists in India - A critical analysis. Indian J Psychiatry 2010;52:83-8.  Back to cited text no. 4
[PUBMED]  Medknow Journal  

Correspondence Address:
M Thirunavukarasu
Department of Psychiatry, SRM University, Kattankulathur, Tamil Nadu
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Source of Support: None, Conflict of Interest: None

DOI: 10.4103/0019-5545.94638

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